Please Welcome…Wayne Thomas Batson
(*Originally posted November 2007)
What a joy to have Christian author Wayne Thomas Batson as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
He is a lifetime lover of all things fantastic, creepy, and/or peculiar. He says he writes SpecFic because he believes that deep down, we all dream of other worlds and long to do something that matters.
Wayne is an active blogger and online advocate of Christian fantasy fiction. He was part of the Fantasy Four book tour in the summer of 2007, and as a result he was given opportunity to be interviewed on radio (see photo) and on TV as a spokesman for Christian fantasy.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Wayne Thomas Batson: As of October 20th , I wrapped up the principal manuscript of Isle of Fire, the sequel to Isle of Swords. This was a serious deadline. I had a little more than three months to complete the work. God came through with the ideas, and I am stoked with the composition of the story. Should be a fun adventure with depth.
WhereTheMapEnds: As the boy in Princess Bride so aptly says, “Murdered by pirates is good.” So what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Wayne Thomas Batson: No Contest: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was my gateway series to the genre of fantasy, and I reread it every chance I get.
To me, Tolkien redefined the author’s level of commitment to a story. He spent decades of his life developing the world map, the cultures, the unique languages, and histories of all his creations. I don’t think we see that as much today because publishers are nervous about missing “marketing windows.”
What I mean by that is that publishers rush their authors to be productive, assigning short deadline periods and quick turnarounds. Publishers also want series books to be out rapid fire, so that multiple books are out at the same time. They don’t want to let authors take 1.5-2 years per book anymore.
That’s something I really struggle with. I mean, how do you rush creativity? Still, Tolkien’s work stands alone as a lovingly and meticulously crafted SpecFic tale. Always will be my favorite.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Wayne Thomas Batson: Actually, I don’t write Christian speculative fiction. I write fiction that is informed by my identity as a Christian.
I know that sounds like semantics, but really, it’s not. If I’m a Christian and a mechanic and I fix your car…was it a Christian repair? If the manager at the local McDonald’s is a Christian and I make a purchase there, do I get a Christian Happy Meal? See my point?
I am a Christian and Jesus is everything to me. He is my worldview and my life. When I write, I pray that He comes shining through. But I am not writing just for Christians to read.
I want everyone to be able to read and enjoy my books on multiple levels: surface and deep. At the surface, come and enjoy a heart-pounding adventure in an enchanting realm. But go deeper than that. See the big questions. Be a thoughtful reader. My thought is, if I get people asking the questions for which Jesus is the only answer, then I’ve done well.
WhereTheMapEnds: Sounds like a good plan. How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Wayne Thomas Batson: I wrote first for my students. I’m a middle school Reading/English teacher, and I had real trouble finding just the “right” story to go with a certain lesson. So, I started writing them myself.
The Door Within books came about because my students challenged me to write an assignment I had given them. My story was 17 pages written in green ink on loose leaf paper. My students loved it. They asked me to make it a movie. That was the spark that led me to keep writing.
WhereTheMapEnds: Leave it to kids to recognize talent. I know your young readers enjoy your books so much. It’s great to be able to take that quality that worked so well in the classroom and “bottle” it in a book that anyone can read. Very cool. So how would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Wayne Thomas Batson: Tentatively Growing. In the last 10 years CBA publishers published more fantasy than the previous fifty years. [Editor’s note: “CBA” stands for the Christian Booksellers’ Association and is a shorthand way of referring to the Christian publishing and retailing industry.] In the last 5 years, we’ve seen more publishers than ever venturing into fantasy as well. I think we are living in the great experimental stage for the CBA. If Christians keep buying what Christian publishers offer, then Christian publishers will continue to publish more.
WhereTheMapEnds: I sure hope you’re right. It’s a common misconception that there are simply no good speculative novels out there from the Christian worldview. I recently updated my Booklist and was surprised to find that I have over 400 titles listed there. Imagine a bookstore or library with all of those books available on the shelf. How cool would that be?
However, I’m also trying to expand the boundaries of what is available for fans of Christian speculative fiction through my own publishing company, Marcher Lord Press. If the Christian publishing industry expands more into speculative fiction, as you’re hoping, we’re good. But if not, Marcher Lord Press will be there to take up the slack.
So, Wayne, what have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative writing and/or publishing?
Wayne Thomas Batson: Speaking personally about my publisher, Thomas Nelson: I am thrilled that they’ve been willing to invest so much capital in the production and marketing of my books. They took a big risk with a first-time author and made a huge statement by creating breathtaking covers and packaging. The books look good—and on the shelf, that matters.
WhereTheMapEnds: It certainly does. Now what have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Wayne Thomas Batson: I am thoroughly frustrated by product placement in both CBA and ABA stores. [Editor’s note: “ABA” stands for the American Booksellers’ Association and is a shorthand way of referring to the secular publishing and book retailing industry.]
I know there are a lot of hands involved in determining where a book goes: marketers, distributors, branch managers—and even a local clerk can trump them all by putting a book wherever. LOL.
In CBA stores, fiction often gets lumped together with nursery rhymes and Beginner’s Bibles. Come on, dude…if you’re a teenager looking for a book, are you even going to consider something next to A Very Veggie Christmas?
In ABA stores, you often see great Christian SpecFic titles tossed into teeny tiny “Religious Fiction” sections. Yes, the place where no one sees it. That’s another reason why I don’t like delineating my work as Christian fiction—if I do, it’s just that much easier to get thrown in with New Age fiction or Taoist fiction.
If I do have Christ’s message to share, the books need to be where people can see them. You don’t see Phillip Pullman’s books being pulled from mainstream fiction for a special “Atheistic Fiction” section. Tolkien and Lewis can be found in both sections—religious and mainstream. Maybe dual designation is what we should be looking for. Hmmm…
WhereTheMapEnds: I understand your point and have felt your pain. My own name for the religious fiction in secular bookstores is Death Row. However, I don’t see this changing in the foreseeable future. Sales reps from Christian publishing companies meet with the religion buyers at secular bookstores. What they buy for their shelves goes on their shelves.
There are other reasons, too, including the fact that most Christian publishers do not have enough titles at once that could be put on the regular Fantasy/SF shelf, for instance. Bookstore chains look to group books together to better feature them in their promotional pieces and catalogs. If a Christian publisher wants to be on that shelf but can’t produce 6 such titles to be grouped together for a catalog ad, it’s not going to happen.
As for atheistic fiction, I see your point there, too, but there is no full-fledged atheistic publishing industry as there is with a Christian publishing industry. When they get as big as the CBA maybe they will be segregated.
And I’m afraid the C.S. Lewis/J.R.R. Tolkien argument is moot. Thier books are now considered classics and therefore in the public domain in terms of where they can be shelved.
Still, I know it’s a terrible frustration when you’re writing for a crossover market, hoping to get non-Christians to read your work, and yet you are not allowed access to that target readership. Yeah, that’s no fun at all.
A benefit of marketing on the Internet is that it is, by definintion, cross-marketing, cross-platform, and crossover. All kinds of people can see and buy your book online.
Okay, off my soapbox! What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Wayne Thomas Batson: I think that depends a lot on local bookstore owners. I’d like to see Christian bookstores become bookstores again. Devote more floorspace to books. Advertise your books. Price your books competitively. Have contests, signings, readings, youth parties—whatever, but let people know, “Hey, we have good books here!”
WhereTheMapEnds: And how about cutting down on the knicknacks and scented candles and everything else that tells men and teenagers to stay away? [innocent grin] So, Wayne, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Wayne Thomas Batson: First, you can do it. If I can, anyone can. God has gifted you uniquely with creativity and passion for stories. And people always have and always will love stories.
Second, write. Stop making excuses. Stop whining. Stop comparing. And write. If your craft isn’t there yet, take some classes. Read in the genre you love. And then tell the story you’ve been dying to tell. [Editor’s note: And read and heed all the awesome advice at the Fiction Writing Tip of the Week column.] [Editor’s note: Stop making so many editor’s notes, Jeff.] [Okay, sorry.] [Editor’s note: We apologize again for all the editor’s notes. Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked have been sacked.]
Third, think carefully about your intent in writing “Christian fiction.” Do you want to encourage the faithful? Do you want to convert the masses? What is the reason you want to do this? Whatever your answer, don’t let the story suffer. You cannot write a salvation tract, dress it up with elves, and call it a story. You’ve got to write a compelling story or the message will suffer.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good advice, Wayne. So now that Isle of Fire is done what writing project will be next for you?
Wayne Thomas Batson: Right, I just finished Isle of Fire, my pirate sequel. But after that, I’ve got an epic fantasy series that I hope to publish. I’ve been working on it for several years (in spurts) and it has been on my mind constantly. New characters, races, plot twists, etc.
But with this series I’m going to attempt to invoke a little Tolkien: I want to take my time with these books. I want to develop huge backstories, cultures, languages, histories. I want the coolest creatures, the most fully envisioned settings—and the most powerful messages. And that will take time.
WhereTheMapEnds: No kidding! Well, we’ll all be eager to read it when you finally round the corner on that project. So tell us what it was like to do the Fantasy Four tour and get to be on TV as the spokesman for Christian fantasy.
Wayne Thomas Batson: The Fantasy Fiction Tour was a life-changing event. I got to rub elbows with creative kindred. Christopher Hopper, Bryan Davis, Sharon Hinck and I are swordbrethren for life. I’m inspired by their faith and hope we can tour again someday. We met so many kind people on the Tour and are still learning today about the impact.
As far as being a spokesman for Christian Fantasy, whoa, I try not to think about that in that way. I still don’t know why God wanted to use me for those incredible opportunities. Front page article in the Washington Post, National TV with Fox and Friends and now Reuters—it’s all kind of surreal.
I hope I made God proud each time, and I hope God will open doors—doors for new writers in the genre, but also doors for people who harshly prejudge Christianity.
WhereTheMapEnds: I know He was proud, Wayne. We all were. Thank you for your time!
That’s All for This Time
Another great interview! Thanks again to Wayne Thomas Batson for spending time with us. Be sure to visit him online.